Sunday’s World Cup: U.S. faces must-win Tuesday
Toronto — Time is running out for the United States at the World Cup of Hockey.
And it has only played one game.
A loss to Team Europe on Saturday turned the pressure up for the U.S. going into its showdown against Canada on Tuesday. Lose that game, and it’s pretty much over.
“That’s our championship game,” coach John Tortorella said Sunday. “We knew we’d have to go through Canada. That game has just come earlier for us here right now, and that’s the way we’re approaching it.”
The Americans better be in championship form after getting shut out 3-0 by Europe, a team made up of players from Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Slovenia and France that had never played together before.
Canada blew out the Czech Republic, 6-0, in its first game, looking so good that former U.S. star Mike Modano tweeted to cancel the rest of it and give the Canadians the trophy.
Unable to create quality scoring chances against Europe, the U.S. had a drastically different look at practice Sunday with grinder Justin Abdelkader of the Red Wings on a line with Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane and center Derek Stepan.
Big defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was on the power play and 30-goal scorer Kyle Palmieri on a line after both were scratched in the opener.
In playoff Tortorella form, he refused to divulge his lineup and said, “Don’t infer.” Forget inferring — the U.S. performance was enough to scream that Tortorella would shake things up.
“We lost the game, so you think there is going to be some changes,” said Kane, whose turnover led to a rarely seen 2-on-0 rush and a Europe goal.
“We had some chances on the power play, had some good looks, but we still want to create more. We still feel like there was not really enough there, so I think naturally that is where some change is going to come.”
Change goes beyond different forward lines and defensive pairings. Counting the final two games at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the Americans haven’t scored in three consecutive games against this level of international competition.
This U.S. team was built to be physical and tough to play against, and everyone knew the goals would have to be manufactured. Tortorella wants his players to go to the net more because that’s what they should be able to do best.
“Whether they’re pretty goals or dirty goals they all count,” Palmieri said. “There’s no pictures on the scoresheet.”
If there were pictures on the scoresheet, a few of Canada’s goals would qualify as masterpieces. The top line of Sidney Crosby with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron clicked immediately, and the depth of the lineup is unquestionably the strongest in the tournament.
So while the U.S. jumbles its lineup and attempts to rediscover its identity, Canada isn’t fixing what completely broke the Czech Republic down Saturday night.
“I can’t remember changing the lineup after a win,” coach Mike Babcock said. “Scotty (Bowman) would phone me and say, ‘What are you doing?’”
Babcock insisted that Canada knows what’s at stake and won’t get “fatter” with confidence after rolling over the Czechs. The Americans need to find some of that quickly after losing it against Europe.
“There are times to make plays and guys didn’t have the confidence to make that play,” said U.S. winger Max Pacioretty, who was demoted to the fourth line in practice.
“In a tournament like this, we don’t have time to try and find our confidence. Right from the start, we need to be able to play our game.”
What the U.S. game actually is remains a question. Like Modano, past U.S. champions Brett Hull and Jeremy Roenick ripped the team’s performance, with Hull saying on ESPN that he could’ve had a hat trick in that game at age 52 and Roenick tweeting that Europe “embarrassed us.”
“Those guys proved that they can win,” U.S. winger T.J. Oshie said. “Sometimes you need to hear some hard words to get you going.”
Sweden 2, Russia 1: Jacob Markstrom made 27 saves in place of ill star Henrik Lundqvist, and Gabriel Landeskog and Victor Hedman scored second-period goals to help Sweden beat Russia in their World Cup of Hockey opener.
Russia’s Alex Ovechkin thought he tied it with 7 seconds left, but officials waved it off, ruling the puck went off Ovechkin’s glove and in.
North America 4, Finland 1: Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon scored, Matt Murray made 24 saves and Team North America skated circles around Finland. Captain Connor McDavid and the group of 23-and-under Americans and Canadians put on an unbelievable show of speed and skill in their first World Cup game, making good on the pre-tournament buzz. North America made it a torturous night for Finland, which had nine players back from the bronze-medal team in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Finnish goaltender Pekka Rinne was often brilliant in stopping 39 of the 43 shots he faced but couldn’t do much about the domination going on in front of him. Valtteri Filppula scored Finland’s only goal late in the third period after the result was decided.